Are “Black” Brands Viable in the Age “of Color?”

December 7, 2011  |  


By Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Socially, black people in America have been called—and called ourselves—everything from the “n” word to Negro, colored, black, black-American, and African-American—with the term du jour pretty much being a catch-all for anyone of African descent. But over the last 25 years, as corporate interests have developed a deeper stake in the African-American market, and cultural shifts have become more sensitive to the nuances in black identity—bi-racial, Latino, Caribbean, African, etc—new terms have cropped up.

“Urban,”“multicultural,” and “of color” have stretched the “black” banner to identify not only the black demographic (those of African descent), but the geography (those who share the inner city experienceof many blacks) and psychographics (those who strongly identify with aspects of black culture). Steve Stoute, CEO of hair and skincare brandCarol’s Daughter, has a newer term—“tanning”—and recently authored a book on the phenomenon called The Tanning of America. None of these monikers fully capture the breadth of diversity of blacks in America, but for Stoute, tanning better reflects recent census reports and population trends.

“If you look at a lot of the census data,” Stoute says, referring to the Pew Research Center’s report that showed 14.6% of new U.S. marriages in 2008 were interracial or interethnic, “you’ve got 1 in 7 marriages now are out of race. That’s 1 in 7. That’s not even talking about kids or dating.” Stoute is encouraged by this trend, and the migration shifts that debunk myths like blacks only live in the big inner cities, or Latinos only live in in California and Florida.

“[The Latino population is] growing in North Carolina at a higher rate,” Stoutepoints out. “If you take that, and African-Americans moving from the inner cities out more towards the suburbs, and you put all that together, what you have is a great complexion of shared experiences.”

Stoute credits hip-hop for tanning America, or changing the way Americans, and American businesses, look at race. “Hip-hop—not just the music, but the culture attached to it—has done more for racial relations than anything since Martin Luther King,” Stoute asserts. “It actually communicated a lifestyle and spoke—in a universal language—to a generation… it showed that we do have a lot of similarities.”

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